Taxing empty homes worked in BC: interview with Jen St. Denis
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Episode 10: Taxing empty homes worked in BC: interview with Jen St. Denis

August 11, 2022

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Paul Kershaw (00:04):

Hello! Hello! Hello! I'm Paul Kershaw, founder of Gen Squeeze and co-host of Hard Truths, our podcast about Canada's broken generational system and how to fix it.

Today. We are focusing on housing, as we sometimes do, because the growing gap between home prices and local earnings is making wealthier many homeowners, often older folks, while locking out many others from secure housing, often younger residents. And this dynamic is transforming class politics in Canada, raising new questions about what makes some affluent and what makes others not. Today I am here with a wonderful guest, Jen St. Denis. She is a talented journalist who has worked for a number of leading media outlets over her career, including The Tyee where she now focuses her time. And she has written a lot, a lot, a lot about housing over her career, focusing on solutions. I've been lucky enough to be interviewed by her a number of times. We've sat on a variety of panels together over the years. And I have to say I'm kind of excited to welcome her to Hard Truths where I get to flip the dynamic. So I can ask her questions rather than vice versa. We welcome Jen to the podcast today in no small part, because she has recently penned an excellent article about a study that examined the impact of the speculation and vacancy tax in BC. So Jen, welcome to Hard Truths. Can I start our conversation off by asking you to remind us about what is this speculation and vacancy tax that you were writing about?

Jen St. Denis (01:39):

Oh, hi Paul. Thanks for having me on your podcast. Yeah, this speculation and vacancy tax, we kind of have to go back in time a little bit in our memories to back to 2017. When after 16 years of British Columbia being governed by the BC liberals, there was suddenly a flip in politics and the BC NDP took the reins of power with some help from the BC Greens who propped up their party and allowed them to form a government. And at that time, you know, just like now, housing was a huge issue in politics. There had been this huge price spike between 2015 and 2016. It was really, really historic. Home prices went up by as much as 40% in some neighborhoods between 2015 and 2016. Just to give you a sense of like that is very abnormal. You know, a normal increase in many other cities in Canada would be something like 2% <laugh> a year for home price growth.

So 40% was really crazy. And it had voters really looking for different solutions. And for a long time the BC Liberals were just kind of going well, you know, the problem really is that there's not enough supply and we need to build more houses. And I think that was really wearing thin with voters. And so finally after collecting data on whether, you know, there was this huge disconnect between local incomes and housing prices. The BC Liberals finally released numbers that did show that a lot of the housing was being bought by people who didn't live in Canada. So, and as a result, they put in a foreign buyer tax. And then when the NDP came in, they kind of went farther and they implemented another tax that targeted really expensive properties over $3 million, they were taxed extra. They increased the foreign buyers tax, and then they also put in this speculation and vacancy tax as well, that really targeted empty homes, but also people who had part of their household in Vancouver, like living in Vancouver. Often, you know, the wife and the children, but the husband living outside of Canada and making the family's income outside of Canada.

And so that kind of family dynamic is often referred to in Vancouver as an astronaut family. I have to really emphasize this as a really, really old immigration pattern, it's been around for a long time. Like since the eighties. It's not that it's, that in itself is a problem, but the government was trying to target tax fairness by putting in this extra tax that also did target people who, who live in Canada, part-time, but don't actually pay income tax in Canada.

Paul Kershaw (04:09):

Right. Right. And I guess for this, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should make clear to listeners that a Generation Squeeze is actually relatively active in proposing in promoting this idea back in the day. I wanna give it a shout it to my colleague, Tom Davidoff at UBC economics, for leading a number of people to design the idea. And then Tom played an instrumental role in actually getting it implemented by the provincial government when the government changed as you described. And I guess I should also say Gen Squeeze was really involved in advocating for the policy change on vacant homes and worked closely with the city of Vancouver to help introduce the first ever empty homes tax in north America when then mayor Robertson did it, I think back in 2016. So full disclosure, we have worked on this at Gen Squeeze and I think it's an important policy. And it's part of the reason that motivated us to invite Jen on. And we thank you for that summary, Jen.

Now, Jen, I think you did a really lovely job in your recent article, summarizing a study that was evaluating the impact of this speculation and vacancy tax. Now that it's been in place in several years, I think the government commissioned UBC economist colleague of my name, Tsur Somerville, and his colleague Jake Wetzel, to analyze the impact. What did their study find?

Jen St. Denis (05:27):

Well, they found that this tax actually worked the way it was supposed to. So, you know, this tax is really designed to get these vacant homes, to stop them from being vacant, to like push them onto the rental market. Or, you know, if people were not permanent residents of BC, they could also avoid the tax by becoming a full-time resident of British Columbia. So on both of those measures, the tax was actually successful. They found that it had actually pushed 20,000 units, like condo kind of apartments, onto the rental market. And just to give you a sense of how huge that was, that far outstripped all of the purpose-built rental that was being built at the time. So, and I think it was 20,000 units between 2018 and 2020. So like that's a lot of, that's a lot of rental coming on supply.

Paul Kershaw (06:18):

Well, you totally anticipated the next question I wanted to ask you is like, is 20,000 units a lot? Is it a big deal? You said it's like more than all the purpose-built rental units built in a set amount of time. Maybe you could remind our listeners, like what portion of the government of the NDP government in BC, they have a goal of, you know, over a hundred thousand new units over a decade. That always makes me think, wow, this, this 20,000 units that already existed. And we just started like reorienting how they're being used, used not as commodities, but as places to live for people. What are other ways that you've been helping your, your readers understand just how big an impact this has been?

Jen St. Denis (06:55):

Yeah. So they looked at a period before this, like before 2018, I think between 2010 and 2018 CMHC found that we were either losing a thousand units of rented condos or, or gaining as much as 5,000 rented condos a year. So that can be a sense of like the normal range might have been like between 2,000 and 5,000 condos a year. So just to compare with that, and I just wanted to emphasize too, like, we didn't have to build those units!

Paul Kershaw (07:26):

Exactly.

Jen St. Denis (07:27):

So often when we were talking about building affordable housing, like, you know, sometimes I remember there was an encampment back in 2016 that led to the mayor of Vancouver promising to get this housing built on the downtown east side. And it's just being constructed now, like six years later. So, so just to like, it takes a long time to get housing built, but we had all these units that were apparently just hiding under the couch cushions.

Paul Kershaw (07:52):

Great. Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate you making that point. Because often when we were advocating for introducing vacancy taxes and we have it, we have that more normalized in BC. Now we've been working hard at trying to have that happen more in Ontario. There's some progress, we can just chat about it, at the federal government in its most recent budget. But one of the points that we've been making at Gen Squeeze is exactly what you articulated that look, it takes time to build new supplies. So when we have supply that exists, now, that we're not using efficiently or for that matter, potentially fairly, let's use public policy, including taxation, to nudge people to redeploy how that housing is being used. And so again, this study is finding that it had an impact on, you know, 20,000 units, which is a big deal in British Columbia.

But despite that substantial impact housing prices have continued to rise in BC and Canada for that matter over the period of time that the speculation and vacancy tax has been in place. And so I wonder, Jen, what do you think that reveals about the complexity of addressing housing on affordability and housing wealth inequality in our province and across the country? Is there a silver bullet policy solution and this measure simply isn't it? Or do we need to pursue a silver buckshot approach? In other words, deploying many, many policy adaptations simultaneously.

Jen St. Denis (09:10):

Paul you always have so many great expressions to describe housing problems. So I appreciate that. Cause I think it helps people understand this really complex problem. Yeah. And I see this, I always see this divide between the supply siders and the demand siders. I know, you know what I'm talking about, but there's these kind of camps…

Paul Kershaw (09:30):

Yea. Flesh it out for us.

Jen St. Denis (09:31):

…on like social media, Twitter, that certain people who think, who are really suspicious of any new development, and are suspicious about developers always benefiting, and really are suspicious if we even need more housing supply, because it always seems to be going to the wealthiest people. It doesn't ever seem to be affordable, that kind of thing. And then conversely, there's a group of people who are really advocating for more supply, for densifying single family neighborhoods. And those two groups I find are often kind of like really skeptical of each other's solution. And I just don't understand this. I just think we need to look at all of these solutions. Like there's no question in my mind that, you know, we had this 30-year period where we weren't building. We were building condos, but we weren't building rental and whatnot, and we weren't building social housing. And I'm like, there's no question we need more supply, but we have to like make the...well, I don't want to be parroting the city of Vancouver, but "the right supply" is what they say.

So for the right income levels. And conversely, like there's no question that there were-- like the study has shown--that there were vacant homes. I think they found that about 16% of the new condos that were coming on the line, were being called as vacant, a kind of investment. So there's no question that we did need this as well. We kind of just need everything to steer things in the right direction. And I don't, I just, it upsets…well it doesn't upset me. But I just find, it’s just not helpful when people are kind of mocking solutions when they're just not kind of fitting into their ideology.

Paul Kershaw (10:59):

Well, you said it upsets you and then kinda, you moved away from that. I'll share that I find a similar kind of frustration that I think you're articulating because, you know, on one hand Gen Squeeze is often trying to point people to our big overall comprehensive plan to address housing on affordability and housing wealth inequality. And it has three pillars and each pillar has parts. And, you know, it's hard to explain to people in all, in a short period of time. And each of these pieces of the pillars you could go into great detail about. And then I find myself at certain moments going and writing about in more detail about some of those pieces. And so a tax policy, like, you know, the speculation and vacancy tax might be one of them. And the moment I start writing in more detail, just about one part of an overall solution, then I find people often sometimes are wanting to pigeonhole me and say, oh yeah, you're only in that camp.

You're thinking that it's just on this demand side, and we don't need to address the supply side. And I find that challenging and frustrating, I think just as you are articulated. Because, you know, we set Gen Squeeze up to be recommending a broad range of solutions. We are a loud voice for instance, to challenge NIMBYism that often gets in the way of building more affordable housing, especially non-profit housing. And so I wonder since, you know, you're a journalist who's writing about housing solutions. This has you writing about a range of policy tools. Are you finding that some people are responding to each article you write, thinking that's the only thoughts you have about housing, as opposed to seeing the broader range of observations you've made about housing policy over the years in its entirety.

Jen St. Denis (12:28):

Yeah, I think it's part of the way we interact with information on social media that is sort of to blame, because… and also just people's deep, deep frustration with not being heard for years. Like I think in Vancouver, especially like for years, people were, I don't know if you remember, but people would go to protests and they would pull up signs that would say, give us the data, because we just didn't know.

Paul Kershaw (12:50):

We hosted some of those protests.

Jen St. Denis (12:53):

Yeah. I mean, when you don't have the information and when you don't have like a solid, a solid base of like knowing what exactly is going on, it's really hard to have a reasonable conversation that's based in facts. And so I think that's part of it. I think that's part of the…

Paul Kershaw (13:08):

Interesting…

Jen St. Denis (13:08):

…So I, you know, in the story that I wrote, I made sure to have a paragraph, or it reminded people that concentrating almost exclusively on foreign buyers, because it did become this thing. Like we didn't know it was this mystery, you know, that in my mind that there was no question that there was like latent racism going on, you know, that was kind of building up. And then during the pandemic, we saw this really disturbing way of anti-Asian racism…

Paul:

Mm-Hmm <affirmative>

Jen:

…this has also been fomenting in Vancouver where we've always had a problem with anti-Asian racism. This discussion about housing was, was part of it.

Paul Kershaw (13:41):

Well, that's interesting. That leads me into wanting to ask you a little bit more about the politics of housing. I guess the politics of taxation in BC, in Canada, that it's demonstrated either by the foreign buyers tax, which you were just referencing, or the speculation and vacancy tax that was the subject of your story more specifically. Because if you think about the latter, the speculation and vacancy tax is described on the government BC's website. And they go at, the government goes to such lengths to communicate that 99% or more than 99% of BC residents are actually exempt from the tax. I wonder, Jen, why do you think the government BC emphasizes that so much?

Jen St. Denis (14:21):

That's brilliant. This is a brilliant political tax. This is, this is a tax that's easy to sell to British Colombians. So this is I find, I think it's always really interesting to talk to the opposition as well. So now the BC Liberals, they’re in opposition, after having this very long reign of power in British Columbia. And now they're kind of, you know, they find themselves in opposition. So what they're saying about this tax, it unfairly penalizes, you know people who own family cottages. In the past, some of them have told me that some MLA's have told me, oh, I'm worried that Americans who wanna own second, wanna own second homes in Vancouver. They're not gonna be able to do that anymore. And I think to myself, you know, the number of people, if you are struggling to even rent a place in Vancouver, you are not going to have a great reservoir of sympathy for someone who owns a family cottage or something.

Jen St. Denis (15:20):

You're not gonna have a lot of sympathy for a retired American who wants to live in Coal Harbour for six months of the year. If you were struggling to even rent a place, you know, you're going to have, you're going to think to yourself, well, if people own more than one—like not only one, they own a home in British Columbia—if they own more than one, you know, they can probably afford to pay a little extra, because after all we're in this housing crisis. So when I look at the kind of, you know, where people are positioning themselves, I think that's the challenge for like the BC Liberals right now. And trying to oppose this tax and trying to show that the NDP have problems with their housing plan is that, you know, by saying those things by kind of being like, well, this is really going to impact people's family cottages. It's, it's difficult to see how many people…

Paul:

Mm-hmm <affirmative>

Jen:

…are kind of going to be resonating with that.

Paul Kershaw (16:09):

I think that's a really astute observation. And I would observe though that the language on the government of BC website is also showing a substantial degree of sort of political anxiety about broadening the conversation of who in BC might be benefiting from the rising home prices. So, you know, I interpret that part of the government BC's website around the speculation and vacancy tax—where they say more than 99% of BC residents don't have to pay it –is to say that they're kind of bragging that they're not asking BC residents to contribute more in taxes. When in fact, many, many BC residents have been made much wealthier by rising home values. And it's not simply those who are foreign or those who are purchasing from other provinces and whatnot, but there's many regular every day residents here in British Columbia who've been being better off. I think that the, the political nervousness to engage in that broader part of society that actually benefits from housing is part and parcel of the cultural …. That gives rise to our ongoing tolerance of home prices, leaving earnings behind, continuing to grow unaffordability barriers for many residents, especially younger folks trying to start out in the housing system and kind of distracting us from the real wealth gains that others are reaping in BC as everyday regular citizens who may have been here for many years.

Jen St. Denis (17:32):

Well, that's always the hard thing in politics, like if bringing in new taxes usually is not a political winner. <Laugh>. That's usually not... when the NDP came in on a promise to slash the bridge fee on the Port Mann, like, yeah, that was, that was not good policy. Like there were lots of policy experts who were saying like, that's not a good idea…

Paul:

Yeah.

Jen:

…You know, it's not a good idea, to have like no consequences for commuting by car, for driving. But that was a political winner for them because it took away a tax people do not like paying. So it's, it's going to be a huge political challenge to, you know…it is, it's kind of amazing to me that they have put in these taxes that have been popular, but the tax on homes were over $3 million is another one that the NDP put in. But it's specifically targets very high net worth properties. And I don't know if you remember, but there was a whole bunch of like very raucous protests of people who live on the west side and they would carry signs complaining about Tom Davidoff, who you mentioned the UBC prof, who didn't actually even propose the…

Paul Kershaw (18:43):

…it wasn't even his idea.

Jen St. Denis (18:45):

Yeah. And they would actually have signs that said like “Davidoff buzz off” or something. Like they were like protesting against a UBC professor and they were very angry about it. And yet, you know, it was, it did target a very specific segment of the population, wealthier people.

Paul Kershaw (19:01):

Yeah. Homes over 3 million, and it's like an infinitesimal part… Well, it's a couple of percent of BC's housing market. So it's only going after a couple percent all things considered. And you're right. It did raise a lot of controversy. I was implicated in that. Some groups took out commercials talking about Dr. Paul Kershaw's proposals, he’s coming to take your home and…at a place where I was speaking, someone came up to me to say, you know, this kind of tax is going to imprison me for life. Whereas someone who commits murder only gets 25 years. And you're just like my goodness. There's some very significant hyperbolic statements happening, but…

Jen St. Denis (19:41):

They were really angry about it, but it really did not affect most people. And there, there, again, you know, you had the wider public looking at these groups of people who were a certain demographic, you know, there were people who lived on the west side and, you know, I think you had the wider population going, I just got renovicted. You know, I am living with my roommate and I'm 35. Like it's. So if you, if they want, if the NDP wants to, or if a government wants to extend that tax burden, or sorry the taxes, and for instance, if they want to start taxing capital gains on home sales, which has been like a sacred cow for four years, that's going to be a huge challenge. That's going to be an enormous challenge.

Paul Kershaw (20:26):

Mm-Hmm <affirmative> Interestingly Gen Squeeze often gets to be put at the front and center of the conversations about whether we should tax capital gains on principal residences, even though actually that is not a position that we—or the working group that we've been leading with folks from multiple universities, our cities and multiple think tanks and housing leaders— have proposed. We've proposed instead, trying to go from thinking we're only going to design tax policy to effect like, you know, less than 1% of the population with a spec and vacancy tax. And say, Hey, can we nudge a broader part of the population, you know, across the country, you know, 10-12% in places like on Ontario, BC, where we have the most unaffordability, maybe sort of a quarter. Because we need a bigger population level impact to disrupt the ongoing dynamics in our housing system that are tolerating and dare I say, often quietly celebrating home prices, leaving earnings behind. It makes homeowners better off.

It contributes to our gross domestic product being quote-unquote better. And then politicians claim political success when that's the case. And so we've talked about adapting that, that tax, you were talking about in BC being on homes over $3 million and bringing it down and applying it at a lower threshold of a million bucks. And that's actually been featured recently in MacLean’s as part of its big idea series. We've talked about it for now some years. And our intention there is to try and get at the sort of cultural issue. And that's why we don't have, in my view, the kind of groundswell of like, this is such a problem. We talk in the media, sometimes some of your colleagues in the media, they'll say, oh, the housing market is hot. When home prices rise, the housing market is healthy. When home prices rise, you're like, oh my God, if you care about affordability, it's the exact opposite. This is terrible.

Jen St. Denis (22:13):

Does anyone write stories like that anymore? I feel like there has been a shift in the media from seeing it as like, I feel like when the pandemic happened and Ontario, like all across Canada was actually hit by these really rising home prices. I feel like there has been a shift lately when I see like the discourse out of Ontario, for instance… I just feel like people, commentators are coming, starting to come around and realizing that this increase was way too fast.

Paul Kershaw (22:45):

I think there's some additional sophistication happening in the way that you say that you describe, but it's remained slow. I mean, especially when you have business media commentators, they'll fall into the, the usual discourse of when a market is hot, as if a price goes up and, you know, it's healthy when it's price or, you know, it's softening or it's weak, et cetera, as prices go down. So that remains quite common in my experience. And if you look at this year, so the 2022 Ontario BC budgets, both of those budget documents will describe the housing system as being strong because home prices have risen. And so you are right. There is some increased sophistication coming, but more generally, we still have this broader cultural and sort of policy technocratic view that falls into a bad habit of thinking, oh, it's a positive as home prices rise.

And, and I think that is why we continue to need talented journalists like you to help, you know, disabuse us of that idea and contribute to that kind of cultural shift. And I, I wonder what you think about how Gen Squeeze could do that work better. So your article observes that over the last five, six years, we've kind of normalized in BC speculation and vacancy tax. It's relatively popular, actually polling quite supports it, so much so that you see at the federal government that in its 2022 federal budget, they're going to replicate a version of the BC speculation and vacancy tax across the country. And so in the light of that sort of normalization of a tax on a small group of people, these others who are the problem, as Gen Squeeze is inviting more and more Canadians to say, look, our housing system sustains itself over time because a broader part of the population, a majority of us, make decisions, whether intentionally or otherwise, that reinforce the status quo, a status quo that sees home prices leave earnings behind.

We're trying to break into that discourse and say that many more of us need to take responsibility for how the system is working. And those of us, myself included as a homeowner, who've been really benefited by these rising prices. We have an obligation to contribute more to solutions. How do you think we might borrow from the way in which the spec and vacancy tax has been normalized and try and normalize a conversation where other Canadians, a larger part of the population that have been benefiting from rising prices, that we could normalize the expectation that they could be a bigger part of the solution?

Jen St. Denis (25:09):

Well, I think you have to explain how these taxes are going to work, because I don't think people, I think I don't, I think a lot of people who own houses don't feel rich at all. Like I think especially if people have recently bought, they're facing huge mortgage payments, you know, maybe they've been able to get money from their family for the down payment, but I don't think, I don't think most people who own property feel particularly rich. And I think that older people, you know, they might feel like they don't really have any other option, but to keep living in their large single family home. Like if there's no other options, and maybe they're retired, and they actually don't really have any income coming in right now. And they view their house as their retirement vehicle. So I think you have to like, realize that when you're talking about, “oh, if you own a 3 million home, you’re wealthy,” …well, it's like wealthy on paper.

Paul Kershaw (26:01):

Do you buy that? Do you buy they’re only wealthy on paper?

Jen St. Denis (26:04):

I don't know. I mean, it depends on people's personal circumstances. Really

Paul Kershaw (26:10):

Someone with 3 million of assets isn't wealthy?

Jen St. Denis (26:13):

Wealthy, but I'm just arguing. Well, you asked what…

Paul Kershaw (26:16):

I know, now I'm asking Jen St. Denis, do you think someone with $3 million of assets is wealthy or not?

Jen St. Denis (26:21):

I think people do all sorts of mental gymnastics to convince themselves that they're not really wealthy.

Paul Kershaw (26:26):

Yeah. Okay. So in the spirit of helping people do those gymnastics...

Jen St. Denis (26:31):

I think you have to show…I think you have to really show people like how much of a tax? How much would you pay? And when would you pay it and what would that mean? And the thing that I can understand with the opposition to the tax on homes worth over $3 million is that people really … because people over the age of 55 in BC can defer their property taxes and not pay their property taxes until they die. So they actually didn't even have to pay this extra tax while they were alive. They could just keep living in the house, you know? So that question of like, a low income senior, who lives in an expensive house, that was the policy that's intended to kind of give relief for that. But a lot of people really, really didn't like that idea.

They were like, I don't want, they thought of it as being in debt to the government, I guess. And they, I guess they also assumed that they would be able to pass on this asset to their children for their inheritors. And so the idea that they would have to pay something like after they died was really… people were really in opposition to that. And I had a hard time getting my mind around that, like that thought process, because I just, I just thought to myself, you know, like, do you really want housing to be this expensive? Like this is like what we have to do. I guess this is the extreme length we have to go to because this market is so unhealthy. So yeah, I think if we're going to like extend the tax even further, people just have to have a lot of clarity about how exactly they're going to pay it and where it's going.

Paul Kershaw (28:09):

Yeah. Well, our working group has tried to add that kind of clarity. We build that deferral idea that, you know, you don't need to pay the additional surtax until the home is sold or inherited so that if you are house rich, but you know, modest income, you know, it's not going to put any pressure in your day to day livelihood. We, you know, we can spell out, you know, someone who's got a 1.1 million house, the additional tax would be an extra couple hundred bucks. We can talk about how much it'll raise in aggregate for BC, for Ontario across the country. We can talk about how many hundreds of thousands of new below market housing it could build. But what I find though still is actually my experience is different than what you're describing. People don't need the technical details, at least not at first, because their initial reaction is shaped more by what you describe as sort of mental gymnastics to try and figure out a way like, “really you think someone in a million dollar plus home is affluent? Why, why do you think that?” And I think that is the public debate we need to have more of these days. And I know Gen Squeeze is keen to contribute to that because we are going to be releasing some polling in the not so distant future where we actually polled Canadians asking them different scenarios. Hey, what if you're like a, a senior with an income of $22,000 and you live in a million dollar home that you own outright, or a $2 million home or a $3 million home. Like when do you think this person is rich or poor or conversely, you know, you're a younger person in their thirties with a, you know, $150,000 income. But you own a home that's, you know, worth a million bucks with a $900,000 mortgage, the affluent or not, or what if they're a renter? And I think that's what housing has done that…

Or I should say our housing system that has tolerated home prices, leaving earnings behind. That's what it has done. It is like, to think about the degree to which access to secure housing and the way in which it yields wealth over time is so instrumental now in driving new class dynamics. And I hope we can have you back in the, not so distant future to talk that through in more detail. Cause I know that you're actually a really strong person at talking about class dynamics seen across Canada. And I'd love to tap into your insights on that front a bit more in a separate podcast.

Jen St. Denis (30:17):

Yeah, that would be interesting. Yeah, I think class in Canada is almost a taboo topic. I don't think any of us like to be viewed as anything under the middle class and yeah. This divide between income and house prices, it kind of lets us be like, oh, well it wasn't me. Like it was the market that made my house…. So I didn't have anything to do with it. I don't even want house prices to go up that fast. But people are not really putting the two and two together in terms of like, well, to get prices to not go up so fast, we might have to increase taxes. Like we might have to do something. We might have to use a mechanism that reins in this rapid drop in price growth. And that mechanism may be taxes like, sorry, but that is how bad it's gotten. I think that's another thing is kind of communicating to people like how bad it's gotten, how and the consequences on the rest of society you know, which can go all the way down to homelessness, right? Like why homelessness is rising across…

Paul Kershaw (31:18):

… Well, absolutely as home prices rise and you have, you know, personally younger, you know, demographic being pushed out of, you know, home ownership and those, even though, you know, good education and good incomes, they're competing for the available rentals with enough bedrooms to have their kids in it. And that kind of then pushes those who might have been going, you know, with middle incomes, into the rentals space, into looking for those housing, the housing that we'd reserve for the working poor that pushes those folks, looking at social housing. And that then pushes those who are hoping to serve who are at risk of homelessness back onto the street. So it has this terrible ripple effect as you're so aptly describing. I think I'm going to wind up there with both hope and a bit of nervousness because I think a group like Gen Squeeze has been really good over the last decade at helping people understand the harm, the intergenerational harm, the other kinds of harm that have been caused by home prices leaving earnings behind.

And I think you can get many a person saying, yeah, I see that it's harder for younger people today or newcomers of any age or even that modest portion of seniors who are renters. But what I think we've been less successful at doing is getting people to see that it hasn't just created harm. It's created benefits. Many folks, myself included have gained so much wealth. And I don't think we've been good at like helping people recognize that, oh, what's harming others, I'm benefiting from. And that, that as a result, that means I have to acknowledge those benefits and think about how can I use those benefits and contribute some of them to help be part of the solution for the harms that are being caused by others that are benefiting me. And, and I think that's a key place where the conversation needs to go. And I so appreciate your writing specifically with the spec and vacancy tax and more generally about housing solutions. Cause I think you're one of the key voices in BC and across Canada raising the level of dialogue. And thank you so much, Jen, for that legacy of writing that you're doing for our community. Thank you for joining Gen Squeeze’s Hard Truths podcast today and sharing your expertise. We are so very appreciative.

Jen St. Denis (33:17):

Well, thanks for having me. We're continuing to cover housing at The Tyee. We're going to be switching over into our civic election coverage. And so we know that it always is…housing is going to be a huge topic, not just in Vancouver, but across the province. So you can check out our website for more.

Paul Kershaw (33:35):

And listeners, if you want to find out more about Jen and her writing, please go to TheTyee.ca

Jen St. Denis (33:41):

All right. Thanks, bye.

Paul Kershaw (33:43):

And as always go to our gensqueeze.ca website to find the latest ways you can add your influence to our work, because I have to remind you that our power to influence public policy grows with the size of our network. And this means, please, please tell your friends and your parents, your relatives about Gen Squeeze, our Hard Truths podcast. Share with them why generational fairness is important to problems like housing, childcare, climate change, and so much more, as we try to make this country work for all generations, promoting wellbeing from the early years onwards. Send your comments about what you've heard on this episode to info [at] gen squeeze, as well as add any suggestions for topics you'd like to hear more about in the future. Cheers.

 

Taxing empty homes worked in BC: interview with Jen St. Denis
Taxing empty homes worked in BC: interview with Jen St. Denis
Check out Generation Squeeze. I just joined.
Hard Truths from Gen Squeeze
Hard Truths